The Philadelphia Eagles announced Friday that they were releasing wide receiver DeSean Jackson, mere hours after a report from NJ.com cited sources within the organization who claimed that Jackson's "off-field behavior" had become a significant concern.
"After careful consideration this offseason, Eagles decide to part ways with DeSean Jackson," the team tweeted. "The team informed him of his release today."
The Eagles reportedly had been shopping Jackson in hopes of avoiding this outcome. The $10.5 million base salary Jackson was owed for 2014 thwarted their attempts, with Jackson expressing no desire to restructure his contract in the event of a move. Philadelphia now will accept a dead-money cap hit of more than $6 million to cut Jackson.
The 27-year-old receiver thrived in Chip Kelly's offense last season, leading the Eagles with 82 receptions for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns. However, Jeremy Maclin's pending return from injury and a contract extension for Riley Cooper set the Eagles up to move in a different direction -- and that damning NJ.com report may have helped put the nail in the coffin.
According to Eliot Shorr-Parks and A.J. Perez, "Jackson's continued association with reputed Los Angeles street gang members who have been connected to two homicides since 2010" led to "serious concerns" within the organization. Jackson "associated" with Theron Shakir, a reputed member of the Crips gang who was charged with the 2010 murder of 14-year-old Taburi Watson. A spokesperson for the L.A. District Attorney's office told NJ.com: "DeSean Jackson was not part of the case. He was not a charged defendant. He was not a witness."
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Still, Jackson was interviewed by an LAPD detective after that 2010 incident, because the detective reportedly was "acting on unspecified information that Jackson might have knowledge of Shakir's activities on the night of Watson's murder."
NJ.com also reported that Jackson's "bad attitude, an inconsistent work ethic, missed meetings and a lack of chemistry with head coach Chip Kelly are the reasons" the team decided to part ways with him this offseason. Jackson's former teammate, Jason Kelce, tweeted the following after the team announced Jackson's release:
We just made an extremely unpopular decision, but I couldn't be more excited and happy with where this organization is going!! #FlyEaglesFly
— Jason Kelce (@Jkelce) March 28, 2014
Whether or not the information in the report played a role in Jackson's release, even rumors of seedy situations away from the field could hurt his market now that he will be an unrestricted free agent. Aaron Hernandez's arrest last offseason on a murder charge has increased the vigilance with which teams monitor their players' activities and affiliations in their private lives.
Jackson released his own statement following his release, disputing the NJ.com report:
"First, I would like to thank the Eagles organization, the Eagles fans and the city of Philadelphia for my time in Philly. I would also like to thank coach Andy Reed [sic] for bringing me in. Secondly, I would like to address the misleading and unfounded reports that my release has anything to do with any affiliation that has been speculated surrounding the company I keep off of the field. I would like to make it very clear that I am not and never have been part of any gang. I am not a gang member and to speculate and assume that I am involved in such activity off the field is reckless and irresponsible. I work very hard on and off the field and I am a good person with good values. I am proud of the accomplishments that I have made both on and off the field. I have worked tirelessly to give back to my community and have a positive impact on those in need. It is unfortunate that I now have to defend myself and my intentions. These reports are irresponsible and just not true. I look forward to working hard for my new team. God Bless."
Jackson is almost certain to land on his feet somewhere in the NFL. He is coming off his third Pro Bowl season and remains one of the league's most electrifying offensive weapons. How long it takes him to land another opportunity -- and which team will be willing to roll the dice, even with a low-risk deal -- may depend on how quickly he can convince a front office that he has his affairs in order.